Introduction 

Schizophrenia is a long-term mental health condition that causes a range of different psychological symptoms, including: 

  • hallucinations - hearing or seeing things that do not exist
  • delusions - unusual beliefs not based on reality which often contradict the evidence
  • muddled thoughts based on the hallucinations or delusions
  • changes in behaviour

Doctors often describe schizophrenia as a psychotic illness. This means sometimes a person may not be able to distinguish their own thoughts and ideas from reality.

Read more about the symptoms of schizophrenia.

Why does schizophrenia happen?

The exact cause of schizophrenia is unknown. However, most experts believe the condition is caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors.

It is thought certain things make you more vulnerable to developing schizophrenia, and certain situations can trigger the condition.

Read more about the causes of schizophrenia.

Who is affected?

Schizophrenia is one of the most common serious mental health conditions. About 1 in 100 people will experience schizophrenia in their lifetime, with many continuing to lead normal lives.

Schizophrenia is most often diagnosed between the ages of 15 and 35. Men and women are equally affected.

There is no single test for schizophrenia. It is most often diagnosed after an assessment by a mental health care professional, such as a psychiatrist.

It is important that schizophrenia is diagnosed as early as possible, as the chances of recovery improve the earlier it is treated.

Read more about diagnosing schizophrenia.

How is schizophrenia treated?

Schizophrenia is usually treated with a combination of medication and therapy appropriate to each individual. In most cases, this will be antipsychotic medicines and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).

People with schizophrenia will usually receive help from a community mental health team (CMHT), which will offer day-to-day support and treatment.

Many people recover from schizophrenia, although they may have periods when symptoms return (relapses). Support and treatment can help reduce the impact of the condition on your life.

Read more about treating schizophrenia.

Living with schizophrenia

If schizophrenia is well managed, it is possible to reduce the chances of severe relapses. This can include:

  • recognising signs of an acute episode
  • taking medication as prescribed
  • talking to others about the condition

There are many charities and support groups offering help and advice on living with schizophrenia. Most people find it comforting to talk to others with a similar condition.

Read more about living with schizophrenia.

Misconceptions about schizophrenia

Split personality

It is commonly thought that people with schizophrenia have a split personality, acting perfectly normally one minute and irrationally or bizarrely the next - this is not true.

Violent behaviour

Some people mistakenly equate schizophrenia with violent behaviour, but people with the condition are rarely dangerous.

Any violent behaviour is usually sparked off by illegal drugs or alcohol, which is the same for people who don’t have schizophrenia.

Page last reviewed: 17/09/2012

Next review due: 17/09/2014